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Judy Shwonek

She remembers being active as a small child, growing up in Appleton trying not to waste time, moving things along, getting things done. Since retiring ten years ago from a career in education spanning 33 years, Judy Shwonek shows no signs of slowing down. Unless you count her sly move to easier slopes on her downhill skiing trips. “I noticed more huffing and puffing last week,” she said, “snowshoeing at 11,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies.”

Soon after joining LIR Judy presented her Solo Women on the Road talk to some 35 members, passing on safety tips to women who felt some apprehension traveling alone, a feeling that kept many from going places they wanted to enjoy. Her “go-to” attitude dispelled some of this fear and went far to dismantle this anxiety. She introduced them to the freedom that comes with learning the tricks and skills of safe travel. As chair of our Membership/Promotions Committee, her enthusiasm has brought this organization forward by keeping L1R visible in the community and promoting an internal fellowship designed to make all members feel welcome, especially those newly joined. She feels that there might be a tendency at our sessions for committee members, or community pals, to cluster in closed circles, to chat among themselves during this time. Making it a point to greet and converse with other members would bring us closer, fold others in.

Judy’s two children, Peter and Vicki, live on the West Coast, one working in medical research at the University of California-San Francisco, the other in library and research at UC-San Diego. A traveling person by nature, she visits them and her three grandchildren often.

While pursuing her BS in Education (English major) at UW Oshkosh in the early sixties she married in her junior year.  But this didn’t stop her association with Reeve Union Board activities.  Classified as an “independent” student she did not join a sorority but spent time pursuing her academic goals, and still found time to be active in the Wesley Foundation at the First Algoma Methodist Church. Early jobs included factory work in Oshkosh where she tested TV tuners and a summer job in the stockroom at Penney’s in her hometown.

Judy’s initial academic interests in college were music and English, both very times consuming outside of class time. She switched her minor from music to French, which she taught later in High School. She stayed in the college choir, and stayed with piano, studying with Gladys Brainard in Appleton during summer breaks. Her piano and love of music is very much a part of her life today.

Judy’s career in education started in 1963, teaching French and English in Wausaukee High School in Marinette County. She and her husband moved to Wautoma and then settled in Menasha with their young children, where Judy substitute taught in order to have more time at home. She was hired in 1970 by the Neenah Joint School District where she taught at Horace Mann, then Shattuck and Armstrong campuses until her retirement from Neenah High School in 1995. She earned her Master of Science in Teaching during summer school and night classes while working. She recalls an incident that probably would not happen today: “I was pregnant with our first child while student teaching in Neenah and was asked to leave because’ it might be a bad influence on the students,’ even though I had unmarried pregnant students in my classes!” It was the late Earl Hutchinson, UW Oshkosh School of Education professor, who welcomed her to the Campus School to complete her student teaching requirements.

After the early years she never taught French again, but concentrated on a full range of English courses, teaching low-ability, standard and advanced pupils. Her favorite class was a standard writing course for juniors. She says, “There is never a dull moment in the career of an English teacher.”

Judy’s choice of books is varied. “I don’t have time for big books!” she says half-jokingly, “and luckily the ones I am reading now — Seabiscuit and Stalag Wisconsin – are on the small side.” She did a review of  Five People You Meet in Heaven for her Church Women’s Circle, and got such a favorable response that she has been asked to do the same for Tuesdays with Morrie, a project she is working on now. Judy is a stickler for good grammar, sensible punctuation, and conciseness in expression. She says, “When asked to ‘go over’ someone else’s writing to tighten it up, clean it up, the challenge for me is to stay true to the author’s tone, not dismantle any of the charm built into the piece, and be careful not to rewrite it according to my personal tastes.”

Although she admits to having many interests, she says “I do not excel at anything. I look for variety and enjoy the unusual.” She says she will do almost anything to be outdoors. Lots of travel, of course, but also gardening, walking, biking, skiing, and snowshoe hiking. This summer she is taking her ten-year-old granddaughter to a Harry Potter intergenerational Elderhostel at Oxford, England. She says “I need to step out and live now, while I am fit. .. you never know what tomorrow will bring.” Judy is naturally interested in preserving the environment, doing what she can, reusing and recycling, studying about this earth and its treasures. Not surprising for one who considers the outdoors her playground. She encourages others to take advantage of it, too. Her words of encouragement to those near retirement or newly retired are that the options for entertainment, intellectual stimulation and personal benefits are nearly limitless.

Judy is — at least mentally for now,–writing something of her life’s story. Her format will be “Stories I Tell,” so I can include a chapter on my encounters in the near-wild, especially my experience in Yellowstone with two small kids when a black bear reared upon us. And my experience visiting the polar bears at Churchill, Winnipeg. Also howling with wolves in Ely, Minnesota, and driving dog sleds.” Judy has purposely looked for and found the unusual. Robert Frost would concur that her choices “made all the difference.” She has taken time to write some poetry for herself … and has had some published.

Two professional societies that Judy has been an officer in are Delta Kappa Gamma, for women educators, and Winnebago County Retired Educators. Non-professional activities include singing in church and community choirs. One personal achievement she clings to is the fact that she has sung in a church choir since age nine … and has not skipped a year. With a low speaking voice, she is a soprano who can still hit high F with ease. For fun, she taps dances with the Rythmettes and belongs to a Neenah chapter of The Red Hat Society which embraces the wonderfully freeing philosophy to do and wear — what feels right for you and not worry about what others may think. “By the time I turned fifty,” Judy remembers,” I finally stopped being shy and reserved, and started to be more independent thinking … and free from the burden of what others think of me. Some ladies wait until they are, say, inside the restaurant we are going to for lunch to put on their red hats. I leave the house wearing mine, wear it in the car, get happy smiles from people. Why not do the whole loaf!? “

That seems to be Judy Shwonek’s tip to those ready to retire. Step out and try to take in as much as you can … while you can. “And if you join an organization,” Judy reminds us, “take your turn on a committee or an officer position. The health of any organization depends on this.”

Judy Shwonek has our appreciation for leading by example.